The Redskins have new starters at nine positions since this time last year, and a handful of contributors and backups who are new as well. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson came over from the division-rival Eagles, and defensive end Jason Hatcher from the Cowboys. Safety Ryan Clark and second-year cornerback David Amerson are expected to shore up the back end of the defense, while Keenan Robinson replaces the retired London Fletcher. Get to know who the starting lineup is under first year head coach Jay Gruden.
OFFENSE: PROJECTED STARTERS
QB Robert Griffin III
After a dazzling rookie debut and a sophomore slump, in which his surgically repaired right knee wasn’t fully healed, Griffin must show in Year 3 that he’s worth the steep price the Redskins paid to get him in the 2012 draft. To that end, the team has brought in a new head coach, new offensive coordinator and two explosive free agent wide receivers. The goal is to convert Griffin into more of a pocket passer and less high-risk scrambler. The transition may take time.
RB Alfred Morris
The 2012 sixth-round pick proved he was no one-hit wonder by backing up his sensational output as a rookie (rushing for 1,613 yards) by gaining 1,275 yards and earning Pro Bowl honors as a sophomore. Morris has the makings of an ideal NFL back: durable, selfless and determined to fight for tough yards. But the Redskins hope he’ll develop as a pass protector and receiver, while not wearing him out. As Griffin retools his game, Morris may have to carry the offense this season.
FB Darrel Young
Young was understandably worried when the Redskins brought in Jay Gruden, given that his offense in Cincinnati didn’t much use a fullback. But as Gruden noted shortly after taking the reins, the Bengals didn’t have a fullback of Young’s caliber. A terrific blocker, he has been an integral part of Morris’s success. Young also had three rushing touchdowns last season and hauled in a 62-yard touchdown reception at Philadelphia.
TE Jordan Reed
Given the Redskins’ relatively small receiving corps, the 6-3 Reed provides a welcome big target and a safety valve for Griffin when none of his playmakers are open deep. The only question is his durability. Injuries limited Reed to nine games and four starts as a rookie. Still, he caught 45 passes for 499 yards. He missed part of this preseason with various ailments, but if he can stay healthy, he should figure prominently, particularly when Pierre Garcon or DeSean Jackson draw double teams.
WR Pierre Garcon
No NFL receiver caught more balls in 2013 than Garcon, whose 113 catches broke Art Monk’s single-season Redskins record. This season, he’ll likely have to share the wealth with free agents Jackson and Andre Roberts. The veteran is accustomed to doing that, having been part of Peyton Manning’s receiving corps in Indianapolis. Signed as a free agent in 2012, Garcon is a strong, physical presence on the field and has a well-established rapport with Griffin.
WR DeSean Jackson
Philadelphia’s release of the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in March and Washington’s prompt signing of him was among the major offseason story lines for the Redskins. And it’s among the chief reasons for optimism on the heels of a 3-13 season. Jackson had a career-high 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns for the Eagles. If there has been a hitch, it’s that Jackson is so fast that Griffin has underestimated his speed on routes.
LT Trent Williams
Massive, strong, athletic and agile as a ballerina, what’s not to like about the Redskins’ left tackle? A two-time Pro Bowler who has started the last 32 consecutive regular season games, Williams will be invaluable in providing the protection Griffin is sure to need this season as he develops his pocket-passing skills. It’s essential he stays in the lineup. Williams’s loss would prove hard to overcome as Washington has no other veteran left tackle on the roster.
LG Shawn Lauvao
The former Cleveland Brown, Lauvao is the lone new face on Washington’s offensive line this season. He was acquired as a free agent after starting 44 games for Cleveland over the previous four seasons. With Williams as his bookend to the left, Lauvao was impressive during the preseason in providing the blocking that opened lanes for the backs up the left side of the field. He takes over the spot vacated by Kory Lichtensteiger, who slides to center.
C Kory Lichtensteiger
|78||6-2||296||29||6||Bowling Green St.|
A stout run blocker, Lichtensteiger has been recast at center, a position he played in college, alternating there and at guard. Since joining Washington via free agency in 2010, he had started 51 of 53 games at left guard. Even after adding about 10 pounds in the offseason, Lichtensteiger will surrender a good bit of heft to many defensive linemen. But he’s well-versed in the playbook and should be an upgrade from Will Montgomery, who was released.
RG Chris Chester
Durability is Chester’s chief asset. Since signing with Washington in 2011 after spending the first five years of his career in Baltimore, Chester hasn’t missed a snap, starting all 48 games at right guard. Clocked as the fastest lineman at the 2006 NFL Scouting Combine, Chester may not be as quick at 31. But he boasts the versatility to play center, as well, which could prove invaluable given that backup center Mike McGlynn was cut in the preseason.
RT Tyler Polumbus
Polumbus enters his third full season as the team’s starting right tackle after joining the squad in the middle of the 2011 season. Initially signed by Mike Shanahan as an undrafted rookie in Denver in 2008, Polumbus spent two seasons with the Broncos and then portions of two more with the Seattle Seahawks. Polumbus fended off challenges for his starting job during the preseason from Tom Compton and rookie Morgan Moses, a third-round pick from Virginia.
PK Kai Forbath
Forbath had to prove he was worthy of retaining his job during the offseason, and the competition with seventh-round draft pick Zach Hocker of Arkansas went down to the wire. Hocker had the stronger leg and finished with more touchbacks and kickoffs inside the 20. But Forbath showed improvement in the distance of his kickoffs. And after missing a 46-yard field goal in the preseason opener, he was spotless on attempts that followed.
DEFENSE: PROJECTED STARTERS
DE Chris Baker
Since making the 53-man roster in 2012 after a year on the practice squad, Baker has steadily climbed the ranks, going from seldom-used backup to key rotational player to late-season starter in 2013. Baker this offseason earned a three-year, $9 million deal and the starting job at left end. Extremely versatile, Baker can play any spot along the line and will flip-flop often with right end Jason Hatcher depending on matchups.
NT Barry Cofield
Cofield returns for his fourth year as the anchor of Washington’s defensive line. Cofield had an up-and-down year in 2013, but the same could be said for all of the linemen along Washington’s defensive line. It’ll be interesting to see how Jim Haslett’s more aggressive philosophy impacts Cofield. The nose tackle enters the season with optimism, and now with three seasons in this system under his belt, he said it feels like second nature.
DE Jason Hatcher
Washington’s highest-profile free agent signing on defense is expected to make an immediate impact. The former Dallas Cowboy is coming off of a career-best 11-sack season, and Haslett hopes he can provide similar production. (That’s why they’re paying him $10.5 million in guaranteed money this year). After rehabbing from a knee scope, Hatcher made his debut in Week 3 of the preseason and in 17 snaps had a sack, quarterback pressure and a tackle for a loss.
OLB Ryan Kerrigan
If the preseason is any indication, Kerrigan seems poised for an even greater impact in his fourth season. In three games, he recorded three sacks and five tackles in limited playing time. Unlike years past, Kerrigan no longer is married to the left side of the line. He’ll start games there, but now he and Brian Orakpo and rookie Trent Murphy will rotate and flip-flop to create better mismatches.
ILB Perry Riley Jr.
Re-signed this offseason to a three-year, $12 million deal after he led the team with 115 tackles, Riley is expected to take on an even larger playmaking role this year to help Robinson shoulder the load. He is strong against the run, and this season, more pass-coverage responsibilities also will fall on the ‘Jack’ linebacker now that Haslett plans to turn outside linebackers loose to rush the passer more.
OLB Brian Orakpo
Orakpo became a free agent this past offseason, but the Redskins had reservations about giving him a lucrative, long-term contract because only twice in his five-year career has he recorded double-digit sacks. So, they used the franchise tag to retain him. Orakpo enters the season with plenty of motivation to prove that he can be an elite pass rusher now that he no longer has to drop in coverage so often. And he aims to prove he’s worth every penny of the $11.45 million franchise tag salary, and more.
ILB Keenan Robinson
Washington drafted Robinson in the fourth round in 2012 with plans of grooming him to replace London Fletcher. But Robinson missed five games with injury as a rookie and then missed his entire second season after getting hurt early in training camp. Now fully healthy, Robinson has earned the confidence of his coaches and he will start at ‘Mike’ linebacker, where he will serve as the tone-setter for the defense. Robinson this preseason displayed great playmaking ability both against the run and pass.
CB DeAngelo Hall
Coming off the finest season of his career, Hall re-signed with Washington this offseason to a four-year, $17 million contract. He will continue to draw the bulk of the coverage assignments against the opposing team’s top wide receivers. Hall could wind up seeing some time at free safety here and there as the Redskins attempt to give quarterbacks all kinds of different looks.
SS Brandon Meriweather
A versatile, hard-hitting, yet reckless player, Meriweather will miss the first two games of the season because of an illegal hit to the head of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith in the third preseason game. With Meriweather out, second-year pro Bacarri Rambo could see time at strong safety, as could Phillip Thomas, depending on his health.
FS Ryan Clark
After Hatcher, Clark ranks as the most important free agent acquisition of the offseason. Free safety has long represented an area of weakness for Washington, but coaches believe Clark can provide stability here while also serving as a mentor to Rambo. The Redskins describe Clark as a coach on the field, helping put teammates in position to make plays.
CB David Amerson
After serving as the third cornerback behind Hall and Josh Wilson as a rookie, Amerson this season rises to a starter’s role, lining up opposite Hall. Coaches love the former second-round pick’s length and range, as well as his willingness to play physically. He could also see some time against opposing No. 1 receiving threats, helping Hall shoulder the load.
P Tress Way
Way, a first-year pro, was brought in during the preseason after he spent the offseason with Chicago. Way struggled mightily with the Bears and was released, but he out-punted third-year veteran Robert Malone in the Redskins’ final preseason game and was the surprise winner of the job. For the preseason, Way averaged 40.9 yards per punt but sent a total of four out of bounds, which played a factor in his release from Chicago. Washington still might bring in additional punters to audition for the job.